Man died trying to save dogs in icy River Tees

Image caption, John Butterfield died in the River Tees

A man drowned after he refused to let go of his pet dogs which had fallen through ice on the River Tees near Stockton, an inquest heard.

John Butterfield, 51, of Portrack estate, plunged through the ice while trying to save his dogs in January.

Passers-by tried to save him using a tree branch but Mr Butterfield refused to let go of his pets.

Teesside Coroner's Court recorded a verdict of accidental death on Thursday.

The coastguard, the Cleveland Police fire boat and a police helicopter were involved in the rescue operation.

Attempts were made to revive Mr Butterfield, who had been in the water for about 25 minutes on 10 January, but he was confirmed dead at Middlesbrough's James Cook Hospital.

The inquest heard passers-by Alan Wheatley and Steve Canham risked their own lives trying to reach Mr Butterfield with a log.

Mr Canham, from Billingham, said: "We shouted for him to let go of the dogs and grab it with both hands, but he just wouldn't."

'Admirable concern'

"I shouted 'mate, the dogs have had it'. The man with me said 'save yourself'.

"He seemed to let go of the log and disappeared under the water."

A pathologist found unemployed Mr Butterfield who had mild learning difficulties, died from drowning.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Teesside Coroner Michael Sheffield said: "His concern for the dogs was admirable but according to the evidence he seems to have become obsessive about his two dogs.

"It seems he continued to hold the two dogs when they became limp, which prevented him from holding onto the log.

"Had he properly been able to hold onto the log with both hands his life might well have been saved but that's not what happened."

Family members left the inquest without commenting.

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